Mar 20, 2019
The Pregnancy In The Workforce series is aimed to give real value to pregnant women so that they can make simple changes to improve their ergonomics in their office. This is the second post in a 3-Part series; in Part 1 I shared some of the reasoning behind making specific ergonomic changes in the office for pregnant women and you should definitely check it out. In a nutshell ergonomics is all about fitting the job to the person. When you fit the person to the job you can get into some real trouble otherwise known as discomfort and pain – I’m sure you have probably felt this before.
There are some specific changes during pregnancy that every woman will need to make in her office set-up in order to avoid discomfort and just feel better at the end of her work day.
Why am I talking about this? I’ve been pregnant (two separate times yielding 3 kids), I have over 10+ years in the ergonomics field consulting and managing a large organization’s in-house ergonomics program where I’ve assessed many pregnant workers, and lastly I’ve been quite unsatisfied with the available information on the internet for pregnant women.
This series aims to provide high-value and actionable steps to improve ergonomics during pregnancy – for both sitting (Parts 1&2) and standing (Part 3) workstations!
You’ll get value out of this series if:
- You manage those who are pregnant (like a HR-type position)
- You are responsible for the health and safety of your organization
- You are pregnant or plan to be pregnant in the near future
- You are unsure on how to set-up a workstation to limit ergonomic risks in pregnancy
- You’d like some ‘insider’ information about pregnancy in the workforce
Let’s slide into Part 2. In this post I’m going to share how to fit the monitor height, working surface, feet, and a specific behaviour to the user. If you are interested in how to set-up the chair ergonomically, you can find that in Part 1.
The Set-up For Sitting
STEP 1: Chair Positioning (This can be found in Part 1; click this to find this post where I exclusively talk about chair positioning)
STEP 2: Monitor Height
STEP 3: Working Surface
STEP 4: Take a look at those feet!
STEP 5: One last thing… keep things straight!
There are certain things you must optimize to avoid pain in the office… especially while pregnant. Let’s look at how to adjust all these different equipment types so they can fit you in a comfortable working position.
STEP 1: Chair Positioning
STEP 2: Monitor Height
- Under ideal circumstances the top of the monitor (also known as the actual screen) should be positioned so it’s slightly lower than your resting eye height. If you need to know what a ‘resting’ eye height actually is, in Part 1 I share key indicators on what to look for to make sure that your neck is in a neutral aka ‘resting’ working position. For an extra-comfort bonus you will want to tilt the angle of your monitor about 20 degrees upwards – so the bottom of the monitor is pointed towards you. This exposes more of the monitor to you since it’s tilted upwards towards you! If you haven’t tried it yet, it might actually change your world (as it did for me).
- Here’s a tip on how to get the ‘resting’ eye height: relax your neck and look straight forward. You shouldn’t be looking up at the screen OR too far down. Both of these positions are considered to be an awkward ergonomic posture and can result in discomfort over time because our neck is in an awkward position.
- Here’s the trick during pregnancy that you might need to do. Do you need to recline your backrest beyond the recommend 95-115 degrees that I mention in Part 1 to take the pressure off your abdomen? If so, your resting eye height will not only be lowered the angle of your ‘neutral’ posture will also change too…
- But you still need to keep your neck in an aligned/neutral position. So what do you do? Simply lowering the height of the monitor until it meets the above criteria may not be enough for everyone especially if you are a bit more reclined. If you find that you are still looking too far upwards to view the monitor it is considered to be an awkward (neck) ergonomic posture and you could be contributing to neck and even upper back discomfort.
- Weird adjustment. So, here’s what you can try. I’ve tried this with great results, but it is not for everyone. Be careful and try this before committing (like marriage, amirite?)… This adjustment is a little weird and counterintuitive. You will need to change the angle of your monitor so it is tilted downwards (instead of upwards) towards you. Remember when you view the monitor your neck has to feel comfortable and you have to look straight ahead or in a neutral posture. However, if you recline your backrest to such a degree that it causes you to put your neck in weird positions to view the monitor then you might want to try tilting your monitor downwards towards you.
STEP 3: Working Surface
- As your abdomen increases, the reach to your keyboard and mouse also increases! I know it’s obvious. But here’s the thing: you really need to be aware of the reaching distance to your keyboard/mouse because if you reach too far to type and mouse on a consistent basis it can strain your shoulders and upper back. It’s considered to be an awkward ergonomic position that pregnancy can compound – especially during the later stages of pregnancy!
- What further compounds this situation is if your work surface (aka desk) is positioned too high or too low for what would be considered a neutral elbow position. If you need a refresher of how to find a neutral elbow position, you can check out Part 1.
- The ideal work set-up is where your neutral elbow height (where your elbow is bent at 90 degrees and your shoulders are TOTALLY relaxed) is slightly above where your keyboard and mouse are positioned on top of the desk.
- Here’s the trick during pregnancy that you may need to do. If you reclined your backrest, that means that your neutral elbow height will be lower than usual so to keep things within a good ergonomic set-up you’ll have to lower the keyboard/mouse height. Remember that this adjustment is independent of your monitor adjustment although they both will likely be lowered. Make sure that you are not lowering your monitor so that it is too low for you…
- Do you have a keyboard tray? Great! This is a straightforward adjustment you can do. You’ll need to lower the keyboard tray so that it’s height is slightly lower compared to neutral (aka relaxed) elbow height.
- Weird adjustment. Depending on the amount of recline in your backrest, you may have to put a positive tilt on your keyboard tray to keep your wrist and forearms in a neutral working position. Ideally (under ‘normal’ circumstances) I would recommend that your keyboard tray either have a zero or negative tilt to keep your wrists straight (and aligned) when you use them. But if you need a large recline in your backrest (to reduce abdomen pressure), you might find the most neutral (aka straight and aligned) wrist posture can only be achieved when you do this keyboard tray adjustment. It’s definitely not for everyone… and it’s definitely ADVANCED, but when I was pregnant I found it to be very comfortable.
- No keyboard tray. (note: you should probably look at getting one during your pregnancy – I’ll explain why in a bit) Ok. This is going to be more tricky to do. What you will need to do sounds a bit counter-intuitive, but functionally speaking it is the same thing as if you had a keyboard tray. What you will need to do is raise your chair. Yes, you heard right… raise your chair height! You will need to raise it to a level that allows you to work with a neutral elbow height. For some women this might mean that you are working a lot higher. You will need to use a footrest OR phone books to make sure you are in firm contact with the ground at all times (a safety and ergonomic staple). To get the ‘weird adjustment‘ with no keyboard tray you will need to extend the legs on the back of your keyboard.
- Here’s the thing with this method for ‘no keyboard tray’. For long-term use, the CSA really advises against using a footrest if it is being used to ‘fill the gap’ between a really high chair and the ground. This is especially true if you are pregnant and if you needed to raise your chair to a very high position in order to work with a neutral elbow height.
- This is also especially true if you need to literally climb up to your new/raised chair height. Why? Pregnancy causes your joints to be more lax and changes your centre of balance. Put these together and you could be at a greater risk of falling. If this sounds like you fit this example you should DEFINITELY consider purchasing, borrowing a keyboard tray, or at least investigate some alternatives -maybe it means using someone else’s desk. Being creative really works!
- This can also be compounded during third trimester of pregnancy – when your abdomen is at its largest size.
STEP 4: Take a look at those feet!
- Making firm foot contact with the floor can help to relieve some back pain.
- Here’s the trick during pregnancy that you may need to do. Many find that using a footrest (even though technically not required) is extremely useful as a reminder/encouragement for full contact with the chair’s backrest – especially the lumbar support!
- Like I mentioned above if you are using your footrest to climb onto your higher chair height (due to reclining your backrest and raising your chair), your company should investigate other alternatives instead of you doing this.
STEP 5: One last thing… keep things straight!
- There is an increased chance of developing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) during pregnancy (don’t worry for the majority of women, it will go away afterwards).
- Fret not, there are ways that this can be avoided:
- Setting up your workstation to make sure that your joints are aligned can go a long way for long-term comfort.
- Do you find that your wrist makes contact with your work surface while typing or mousing? This can be a major contributor to CTS risks. Try hovering (meaning no contact between the wrist and desk) or, if you can’t do that, try getting a really soft gel wrist rest. Remember wrist rests are only meant to be used when you need a ‘rest’ aka not ALL the time! 😉
- Alternative keyboards. There are alternative keyboards that are available, and what I’ve found to work out the best while being pregnant is ‘split keyboards’. Even better would be a split/more neutral keyboard too like the Kinesis (I had good luck with this in my twin pregnancy and even afterwards). With whatever alternative keyboard you choose to use you will need to get used to it – so take this ‘learning curve’ into consideration too. This is the reason why I really like Ergonomic Showrooms. Thinking about starting one in your company? You can check out this link where I share how I built one and some items that I included.
To Conclude Part 2…
Want to stay comfortable while working? Setting up your workstation for sitting during pregnancy is critical yet it’s often overlooked! If you feel overwhelmed with this information, there is a really simple way to figure out if you are on the right track. Just ask yourself this question: does my work feel comfortable? If it does, awesome! The key indicator is if your body is sore then something will likely need to be adjusted in your work set-up.
Next week I’ll be sharing the last part of this series. It will be geared to how to set-up your work space for standing… this is something that I did a lot during both of my pregnancies.
If you’d like to get a jump on incorporating safe amounts of standing at work, I’ve put together a ‘Standing Desk Challenge’. This is a 5 day challenge where I send you daily coaching emails and give you specific information on how to set-up your workstation for safe standing – even if you don’t have a ‘standing desk’ – yup I give you ideas on how to safely make-shift your own standing desk. Note: you might need a bit of help with the simple ‘make-shift’ set-up from a co-worker especially during the later stages of pregnancy, but that is totally your discretion. Take precautions as you see fit with this challenge. You might want advice from your GP or midwife whether more standing in your workday would be good with your pregnancy. Or perhaps you have a more complex pregnancy and more standing isn’t necessarily a good thing. During my pregnancies I found that small amounts of standing were very beneficial, but please do your own due-diligence! 😃